Enough is enough. Young people must live, love and object to further restrictions

Young people should no longer tolerate being ignored and mistreated while flawed science and weak political leadership blights their future. Here’s why Young Money doesn’t support further restrictions to curb Covid-19.

This might not be the most refined or comprehensive blog you read about the crisis we’re in. It just comes from a place of pure compulsion.

I won’t let enemy be the perfect of good so I’m writing this now, regardless of its rough edges, to unburden myself and maybe encourage others to pluck up the courage to speak out.

I know many people will disagree with me. I am not a health or science expert. But I read, watch, listen and learn.

Plus, I’ve been advocating for young people and their hopes, dreams and worries for nearly ten years through this blog. I have a right to say something and be heard.

This is an atrocity

I have mostly kept out of politics for the near-decade I’ve been writing this blog. That’s because I believe personal finance matters to everyone, regardless of their political beliefs.

I started this blog when I was in a very bad place in my life. It was a few years after the last financial crash and it seemed all my friends and peers were struggling.

I wasn’t exactly thriving. I was unemployed. I had to accept my dream to become a full-time musician, the career I had worked towards all my young life, wasn’t going to happen. I became depressed and aimless.

So when I set up a WordPress account in 2011, I did it as an act of hope. I thought that learning about money might help me grasp that little bit of control in an unfair and unforgiving world. I have always wanted this blog to be helpful, constructive and enlightening for anyone who chooses to read it.

Yes, I’m dismayed at certain ongoing structural problems (like our dysfunctional housing system) that hold young people back. I have commented on policies that have financial upshots for young people, both good and bad. I’ve been saddened by the growing intergenerational divide. We are nowhere near addressing the inequalities that undermine the social contract.

But I have always maintained that all young people can improve their personal finances with the right information, strategy and attitude. “Don’t get mad – get informed.” That’s the blog’s motto, and I stand by it. Now more than ever, it’s down to us and our determination, integrity, courage, civic-mindedness and innovation to find a way through.

But right now, I AM mad. I can’t help it. I’m also heartbroken, tired and incredulous.

I’ve been advocating for young people and their hopes, dreams and worries for nearly ten years through this blog. I have a right to say something and be heard

The only word I can use to describe what the government and devolved administrations are doing to households, families and businesses is an atrocity. It’s an atrocity against our finances, our job prospects, our social and family bonds, our physical and mental health, our dreams, our basic human rights.

Moving from fear to facts

I initially supported the first lockdown in this country. Like most people, I was frightened. In the face of constant messaging about the dangers of interpersonal contact, I never felt fear like it. I didn’t want my fellow citizens to die an awful death before their time, nor did I want frontline staff in our NHS and social care system to perish while doing their jobs. That’s why millions of young people like me tolerated imprisonment in our homes for months. That’s why we gave up work, money, social contact, fresh air and freedom.

We went above and beyond our civic duty to buy the NHS time. We made enormous sacrifices so the government could build up stocks of PPE for whomever needed it, to give the scientific and medical community the chance to develop new treatments, in the absence of a vaccine, to reduce unnecessary death and suffering.

We waited for the government and various well-remunerated private contractors to develop the testing system that would apparently allow us to return to normality. We stuck with lockdown, even when it became apparent that the modelling driving policy was based on faulty assumptions.

But I don’t want to live in fear anymore. I want to know the facts.

The modelling that supports further restrictions is once again based on worst-case, erroneous assumptions. The criteria has shifted from minimising deaths (now possible through alternatives to ventilation and better treatment) and avoiding NHS overwhelm to suppressing infections, despite the vast majority of people under 60 being unaffected by the virus. The 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants has not been recommended by anyone and is a political compromise with no basis in science.

Above all, the average age of death for Covid-19 is 82, just a few months shy of the average age of death overall in this country, and the vast majority of cases have underlying health conditions. So the purpose of further restrictions is to keep mostly elderly people with complex health needs alive for a bit longer and to eliminate the negligible risk of anyone under the age of 60 dying from this virus. They will continue until there is an effective vaccine but we may have to wait months if not years – if it can ever be delivered.

The 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants has not been recommended by anyone and is a political compromise with no basis in science

The devastating cost to young AND older people

Here’s what else we now know. Young people are the most likely to be unemployed, earning less, relying on debt, requiring payment holidays, raiding their savings, in rental arrears and facing eviction as a result of the first lockdown.

We know thousands of younger people have had cancer treatment postponed, missed screenings and been deprived of proper contact with mental health professionals. We know young people are the most likely to be dealing with profound depression, anxiety and/or stress caused by lockdown.

We know young people starved of social contact, physical training and educational opportunities, job offers and placements and the most basic sense of control over their lives will be scarred for years to come.

But we also know the cost being paid by older people. Isolation and desperate loneliness, lapses in health treatment, slashed dividends and savings rates, not to mention the anguish they feel on behalf of children or grandchildren…the price we are all paying is too high.

We now have a government with the power to say your job is no longer ‘viable’, shut down your business, force you into the benefits system or curtail the health treatment they need. How am I – or anyone else – supposed to help young people look after their money and manage their financial wellbeing against that backdrop?

We now have a government with the power to say your job is no longer ‘viable’, shut down your business, force you into the benefits system or curtail the health treatment they need

Scapegoating our generation

In recent weeks, we’ve been trying to pull through and start the rebuild for the good of our country, for the sake of our finances and sanity, only to find we’re now being criminialised. We all know young people are more likely to live in close quarters, needing to work on site in fields like hospitality or retail and travel on public transport. And after months of being stuck indoors and going quietly round the bend, we’re desperate to feel alive again. Having drinks with friends and colleagues, going on dates, organising a family dinner, getting together to play music or sport…cause for public shaming, one and all.

Our national government and devolved administration in Scotland have made a scapegoat out of our generation. When pollsters like YouGov ask older people whether they “blame” young people for the spread of the virus, of course many will be manipulated into seeing young people as the enemy. How on earth are we going to mend the social fabric after this?

The worst part is that young people are being conditioned to believe that questioning these measures is far-right and possibly evil. Shut up and “don’t kill gran”, according to actual public health advertisements from councils. All this is not helped by the fact that some far-right opportunists and conspiracy theorists like David Icke are so publicly part of the ‘anti-lockdown’ lobby, promoting manifestly untrue ideas like Covid-19 is a hoax and 5G is what’s really killing us. These irresponsible lies have to be publicly challenged as much as flawed science backing tougher restrictions.

When I appeared on Question Time in June, I was shocked that the young audience seemed so worn down. They just didn’t appear to have clocked how much these restrictions were devastating their futures. The next generation seem to be internalising the message that they’re part of the problem, that they’ve got to keep giving up so much, even when they have so little.

I never thought in my lifetime that young people in this country would be nationally shamed for having drinks with friends or going on dates

The last straw

The last straw for me came when Nicola Sturgeon and administrators locked students in their rooms across Scottish universities this week, telling them they wont be able to see their families at Christmas. Contrary to what students were told pre-term, tuition is becoming all-virtual for the rest of the academic year. This could well be replicated in English universities soon and yet all these students will be paying their full accommodation costs and tuition fees.

Institutions and landlords sold students a false prospectus. I worry if it will take an isolation-induced suicide or a depression epidemic to play out across campuses to prompt them start treating young people like human beings.

Enough is enough. Universities and accommodation providers must compensate for this horrible shadow of a student experience, if they refuse to return to proper in-person teaching, and allow young people to see family and friends as a part of their pastoral duty, or the resentment will only grow.

More widely, young people across the country should carry on supporting their local pubs, restaurants, coffee shops and cinemas – if they’ve got any money left, that is – and go out earlier in the day to ensure the meritless vandalism of a 10pm curfew doesn’t destroy all the public places we know and love. Theatres and music venues have to bust a gut to ensure they can put on plays and gigs so British culture doesn’t face extinction. We should continue working, seeing our friends, pursuing a love life and enjoying ourselves in the overwhelmingly responsible fashion in which we’ve conducted ourselves so far. Responsible insofar as we’ve social distanced and worn masks, yes, but also responsibly keeping this country going and maintaining the things that make life worth living.

Institutions and landlords sold students a false prospectus to line their own pockets

The need for unpleasant facts

In his essay “Inside the Whale”, George Orwell discussed the “bitter” fight between the generations after the First World War, and how official beliefs were “dissolving like sand-castles”. “For several years, the old-young antagonism took on a quality of real hatred”, he wrote. I hope that doesn’t happen this time around. But I see no other outcome unless we change course very quickly.

Leadership is about making difficult decisions for the long-term good of the nation. It’s about having the intelligence, guts and compassion to relay what Orwell called “unpleasant facts” to the nation: this virus cannot be stopped – nor can the lives of everyone in this country. Better to do whatever we can to protect those most at risk and start the process of rebuilding the shattered economy that pays for that protection.

So yes, I suppose it is time to get mad. The flame of anger is in young people, somewhere, but it’s being smothered by conformity, fear and depression. That flame has got to keep burning if we stand a chance of salvaging a decent future from the wreckage. Because then we can start to make one thing clear to the powers-that-be: we won’t be ignored any longer.

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